Twenty-four pieces of trash, careless discards left by humans, collected across California's western Mojave desert are now accessioned for the Waste Wunderkammer featuring procurement site images and origin research.
Exhibit at the Antelope Valley Conservancy in Quartz Hill, CA August 25 - October 25, 2018

#1) Polystyrene Foam procured July 30, 2015 in Lancaster

Styrofoam is a brand name held by Dow Chemical for expanded (rather than extruded) polystyrene created from non-renewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals used as cushioning in packaging as well as in banned take-out containers. In this weathered sample, one can see the material in midst of decomposition into smaller bead-like pieces which ride easily in the wind and are mistakenly ingested by wildlife as food. The location is a series of privately owned lots adjacent to an elementary school and just behind the tony gated subdivision where the mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, resides. A local girl scout suggested the location for a clean up made possible in cooperation with Waste Management and the city of Lancaster's Department of Public Works, part of the DEHSART 2016 initiative supported by a grant from the Antelope Valley Illegal Dumping Task Force.

#2) Shotgun Shells procured December 15, 2015 in Rosamond

When fired, a gun expels shells of many shapes and sizes typically left behind in large quantities at impromptu ranges, particularly where recreational shooting is lawful. The plastic casings decompose in the searing sun resulting in small debris which is difficult to clean up and confuses desert creatures. For these 12 gauge shells, the metal portion or hull is manufactured by Cheddite, identified by four stars stamped into the bottom of the brass. These are filled with grains of shot described by the shot number, here 7 & 8, Super X/Winchester (2 ¾") and Estate Cartridges (3") as competition target ammunition. Volatile unexploded shells are common at clean ups and should be handled by informed individuals to avoid accidental explosion.

#3) Power 5x Butane Caps procured May 26, 2018 in Adelanto

Now discontinued, these plastic caps topped refined 300ml butane gas conisters, a solvent commonly used for refilling lighters and perhaps less commonly known to purify cannabis plant matter through a highly dangerous process into the illegal substance, hash oil. A twelve pack retailed for around $70 and hundreds of caps are often dumped along with dozens of cans in cardboard packaging. BK Power Imports owner Bobby Kwon pled guilty in 2017 to one charge of selling drug paraphernalia and forfeited over one million dollars and just under 95,000 cans of butane. Over time the plastic lids break down into pieces and the pressurized containers are hazardous waste difficult to dispose safely and legally.

#4) Oxy Mask Cockpit Console Label - Mike Selector Switch procured June 12, 2013 in Palmdale

This small rigid engraved plastic label from an aircraft flight deck could have been easily overlooked at the vast dumpsite not far from classified US Air Force Plant 42. Just as a passenger airplane's cabin has drop down oxygen masks, a separate system exists in the cockpit. The mike selector switch activates the microphone within a pilot's oxygen mask so communication can continue. These switches could be a toggle to select and a push button to regulate the flow rate in liters per minute from normal to emergent. Oddly the word microphone is abbreviated here to mike instead of the more traditional term mic.

#5) Polaroid® procured March 2, 2016 in East Lancaster

Polaroid, established in 1937, created the instant camera after co-founder Edwin Land's daughter wondered why she couldn't immediately see a photograph her father had just taken. In 1947 the instant photographic process was introduced. The original Polaroid Land camera retailed for $89.95. In 1963, color instant film was introduced. Once the scene is exposed and light hits the specialized chemicals in the multi-layered sandwich the image is magically revealed in just a short time. The sun and sand destroy the emulsion and package often creating a new image encrusted with dirt. This single polaroid may have been part of a family photo collection. Such formerly treasured moments in time can be discovered in the desert.

#6) Fine Young Cannibals Cassette Tape The Raw & The Cooked procured March 3, 2016 in Llano

The title of the second and final album released in 1989 by this British rock band is taken from anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. His structural study of Amerindian mythology, Mythologiques, was published in 1964. While The Raw & The Cooked could describe the tragedy and condition of just about everything discarded in the desert, this selection is mid-transition from outdated recording to broken relic, where the identifying text exists only on the reverse. Three of the tracks were recorded at Prince's studio, Paisley Park by David Z, the older brother of Bobby Z of The Revolution. The album topped the Billboard 200 in 1989.

#7) Posable Construction Worker Figure procured August 7, 2013 in Barrel Springs Park, Palmdale

Even in action figure online groups, no one has been able to identify the character or manufacturer of this toy made in China. He may be a knockoff of the popular Big Builder Construction Co. series of exaggeratedly modeled buff male workers. The hand shape suggests missing interchangeable tool accessories. He is a great example of the large quantity of plastic playthings left behind, many of which could continue to entertain younger generations through donation and thrift.

#8) 3M Dc600A Data Cartridge Tape procured February 12, 2017 in Llano

The intriguing paper label "For Unclassified Use Only" on this early format magnetic tape is a rare discovery and irresistible choice for the Waste Wunderkammer. The quarter inch cartridge (QIC) was likely manufactured after 1972. The measurement in feet of the media determined the storage capacity ranging from 2.9MB to an impressive 120MB. On the lower right corner the record button suggests the tape was rewritable. As with any recorded media found in the desert, the material can be replayed via reel to reel and remade into found soundscapes by audio artists.

#9) Snapics by Tupperware procured March 2, 2016 in East Lancaster

Made by Tupperware in 1966 and almost undiscoverable within this vast dumpsite, the toy featured easy to follow directions to snap small plastic tiles to a larger white backplate, arranging the different colors to create a picture. This owner went rogue with an abstract design not found on any of Tupperware's suggested art patterns. One snap tile is missing - the wabi-sabi part of this antique collectible.

#10) Metal Es procured September 21, 2013 in Llano

Presenting as metal letters scattered in the sand, these are individually stacked and bound to form a ferrite core for a transformer. The magnetic core is wrapped in copper and is often used to power electronic switching devices such as radios and receivers. When dumped, the valuable copper wires are removed and the E sandwich eventually falls apart.

#11) American Automobile Club of Southern California Card procured January 16, 2016 in Lancaster

Many plastic membership, benefit, even credit cards are found in the desert. Veronica may have hired a hauling company never to know her personal effects live on outside a landfill. While collecting found personal information is a tactic to bring tippers to justice, the best practice is to shred your mail and cards and request a dump receipt from your hauling service. Bagged, shredded mail is a great alternative to foam packing peanuts and some types can be added to compost or formed into logs for wood stove fuel.

#12) Paperback Book The Incredible Journey procured August 1, 2018 in Quartz Hill

The Incredible Journey by Scottish author Sheila Burnford is a young adult novel about roving pets published in 1961. Two dogs and a cat travel 300 miles looking to be reunited with their owners. In 1993, Disney re-released the tale as Homeward Bound. The team is comprised of old English Bull Terrier Bodger, somewhat worldly as a beast imported from the UK, Luath the young Labrador Retreiver, and Tao the Siamese cat. This particular edition is of indeterminate age and in a common state of deterioration for abandoned books in the desert.

#13) Concrete procured March 5, 2016 in Llano

The residue of demolition can often be recycled into useful material at the consumer and industrial level, yet huge deposits of broken concrete and asphalt are dumped on privately owned land. Locations with sunken foundations are another attractive hiding spot. Neighbors often file complaints with the city or county but the material reeks of public works and could easily be reused as infill or placed in gabion retaining walls.

#14) Motorola Cell Phone procured January 16, 2016 in Palmdale

This Moto E ran Android™ 4.4 and featured the sharpest display in its class, Corning® Gorilla® Glass protection, a water repellant splash guard and an all-day battery. Built to last, except in this case. This 1st generation Moto model has a release date of May 2014. There are many resources to dispose of a broken cell phone and the hazardous rechargeable batteries can be recycled at Home Depot.

#15) Hard Mini Diskette procured on February 12, 2017 in Llano

IBM still manufactures the 3 ½" double density 720KB, an improvement over the larger floppy disk although computers with a drive to accept this media ceased in 2006. A method of removable computer file storage which hit the market in 1986, this version was still called a floppy after its 8" and 5 ½" cousins which were indeed quite flexible. Eventually the large packages stored on this type of media - backups, operating systems and software were replaced by CD-ROMS and DVDs.

#16) Mini TV procured on July 30, 2015 in Lake Los Angeles

Found at a site with dozens of televisions from various eras, this was the easiest example to place in the Waste Wunderkammer due to the compact size. Televisions are one of the more commonly dumped items particularly due to the popularity of flat screens. This mini CRT (cathode ray tube) was a vacuum where electron guns were used to activate images on a phosphorescent screen. The guns modulate the electron beam to share content. This relic is perpetually broadcasting an abstract sad sand story.

#17) VHS (Video Home System) Tape procured on January 1, 2014 in Antelope Acres

The plastic housing of VHS and cassette ribbons become brittle under the desert sun and quickly shatter. The wind catches the fine electromagnetic tape inside which snags and glistens like holiday tinsel on all sorts of desert plants. With the passage of cars along an asphalt road, the tape can be pulled farther and farther from its reel and clean up becomes a challenge. The label is illegible on this cassette. While the contents carry both audio and image, playback of the deteriorated tape is difficult.

#18) Electric Organ Parts/Circuit Board and White Key procured on December 10, 2013 in Llano

We know the even numbered module is from an electric keyboard by the number of capacitors - 88. One of the 52 white keys accompanies this find. The elaborate organ was dumped where the pavement ends behind the Llano del Rio ruins in concert with many music books and hymnals. These instruments are used in private homes and places of worship, often seen in thrift shops but rarely left in the desert. Despite many attempts to clean the site up with county support, the objects are on privately owned property adjacent to government land. "Excuses, excuses, you'll hear them every day. And the Devil he'll supply them, if the church you stay away." - The Kingsmen Quartet

#19) Homemade Frame Loom procured on February 10, 2017 in Pinon Hills

As a grade school activity, pot holder weaving is a standby. In this homemade version the yarn warp and weft was almost complete yet abandoned. The four directions on a loom creates a textile - the warp running north to south infinitely according to the desired yardage or length while the weft wraps those fibers east to west, binding the border of the goods. Interestingly this procurement site also featured a broken antique sewing machine cabinet gathered for use in the stage design of At Home at the Zoo at the Wallis in Beverly Hills. Traditional arts have been rediscovered by Martha, Michael and Jo Ann, but craftspeople have never stopped making.

#20) Plastic One Gallon Paint Can and Paint procured on August 1, 2018 in Quartz Hill

KW Plastics has pioneered recycled plastics since its inception in 1981. When piles of excess non-biodegradable polymers collected in landfills, owners Kenny Campbell and Wiley Sanders worked to turn them into new products starting with plastic sheets. As large suppliers on the west coast needed easier access to KW's resin, a new plant in Bakersfield, CA opened in 1986. In 1998, KW entered the packaging industry with one gallon paint cans made from recycled materials. KW Container was established as an injection company molding 100% renewable paint buckets. Sadly this can, still half full of mauve paint was left rather recycled.

#21) E24a Estwing Axe procured on May 2, 2016 in Llano

Manufactured in Rockford, Illinois, this tool is forged in one piece with a grip elegantly bound in perforated leather and an edge able to split logs though in need of hand sharpening. The specimen can be purchase new today for around $35. Since 1923, the Estwing family and employees take pride in producing "the world's most durable, comfortable and attractive striking and struck tools." The Estwing name is embossed on the bottom of the hatchet handle and was found unburied just off Highway 138 in front of the ruins of the Llano del Rio hotel.

#22) DMV Registration Papers procured March 9, 2016 in Pinon Hills

An 18' ski boat is impossible to physically place in the Waste Wunderkammer, but the boat's glove box preserved personal and detailed information about the craft. The handsome Sunliner, manufactured in 1979, was left at an intersection on Baldy Mesa Road, discovered March 17, 2015. The craft's number was scratched off and had been tagged "FOR SALE CALL 911.cops" but with the appealing vintage graphics by June the vehicle disappeared - not the case for many boats dumped all over the desert.

#23) No-Sag® Upholstery Spring procured on August 5, 2013 in Llano

The display of the DMV documents is a circular zig zag furniture spring. Usually 8 or 11 gauge metal, the ends are affixed to a wooden frame using clips or brackets on the backs, seats and arms to provide cushion and comfort. Sold by the foot, these were introduced to the US market in 1923. Many of these serpentine relics exist as the scorning sun destroys upholstery fabric which gives way to blown batting and finally disintegrated foam to reveal the furniture's skeleton.

#24) Superloon™ Mylar Balloon procured May 1, 2016 in Llano

Established almost 40 years ago, CTI manufactures Mylar and latex balloons and specialty, laminated and printed films. All DuraFloat products state “This balloon may conduct electricity. Do not release outdoors. Do not use near power lines. Misuse can cause personal injury. Warning: Not suitable for children under 36 months due to small parts - choking hazard." Yes somehow all of this text fits on the helium intake. These are very commonly caught in desert plants, even in the most remote areas. Plan your party without environmental hazards - celebrations should honor our shared ecosystem.

©Karyl Newman 2020


Karyl Newman